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Muzzleloader deer hunting tactics

By DICK MARTIN • Dec 15, 2018 at 8:00 AM

The 2018 deer muzzleloader season will run Jan. 5 to 8, and it's always a tough season. But not impossible.

So far this year, Buckeye hunters have bagged over 140,000 whitetails, and the ones left alive are either superbly lucky or more likely, wise now and wary, with newly developed skills at avoiding hunters. But Norwalk-area hunters who haven't scored yet or wanting to try out that new black powder gun they got for Christmas can still put meat in the freezer if they take advantage of deer habits.

For example, the bucks and does who survived the gun season immediately began to do all their feeding at night and laying up for the day in either protected ground or in the heaviest cover they can find, which means back in near impenetrable swamps, multiflora rose thickets, in the middle of any standing corn still surviving or in really thick brush. But they've had around 20 days of peace since the end of gun season, and after a couple of weeks with no hunters to speak of and no guns going off in all directions, most will gradually resume their normal habits.

Which means the first morning of the muzzleloader season will find them moving as usual, so one good tactic for standers will be to scout out deer trails leading into those swamps, heavy thickets, etc. and be sitting near one come dawn. Because as soon as those full throated booms tell deer they're in trouble again, they'll race for sanctuary and give those standers a good chance at bagging venison.

Many will be driving with friends on opening morning too, and probably using the normal tactic of having drivers walk through likely cover with standers waiting at the end. But now deer know the standers will be there, and are more likely to dive out the sides than run straight ahead. So, wise drivers will place most of their standers along the sides of a drive area and just one or two at the end. And they'll do well to leave an old timer or two behind. I still remember one drive when a 12 buck bolted out the side of a thicket and ran cross bare ground to a nearby woodlot. And the two does that circled the drivers and slipped back to where the drive started. And a tired old timer was waiting.

After opening morning, the hunting will get tougher yet, and top tactic then will be to hunt with a partner if possible and go where deer won't usually be. I remember jumping a nice buck from a tiny cattail swamp in the middle of a bare ground soybean field, and another hiding in a brier patch within yards of a well traveled road. Another was lurking beneath a fallen tree in a gully crossing an open pine thicket (he got away), and yet another in a skimpy fencerow that shouldn't have been able to hide a rabbit.

And remember one thing about muzzleloaders, especially if you hunt with a round ball. Ohio deer are fat after a rich fall of feeding, and wounds will often close instantly, leaving no blood trail. Follow any deer you think you hit as long as possible. I've done so four times and found a kill each time after finally seeing a blood trail.

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Hooks & bullets

• Ohio has some very good ice fishing and other winter sports too, but Minnesota would still like Buckeyes to head their way. A recent news release from Explore Minnesota touted its great fishing for northern pike, walleye, and lunker perch, and also its snowmobiling, winter hiking, and winter festivals. Interested readers can Google up Explore Minnesota and get plenty of details on everything from fishing camps to snowmobile trails.

• Readers who don't mind a fair drive to hunt coyotes might be interested in the Lake Edinboro Sportsmen's League Tri-State Coyote Hunt on Jan. 25 through 27. The League is based at 16725 Hecker Road in Cambridge Springs, Penn., 16403. Registration fee is $12 and there will be four prizes paid including $1,000 for minimum heaviest coyote. For more information on rules, plus applications visit http://edinborosportsmen.org/coyote.html.

• Cat lovers might not like the following, but the American Bird Conservancy is asking owners of outdoor cats to please keep them inside. The conflict stems from a groundbreaking study published in 2013 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others that said the combined impact of tens of millions of outdoor cats in the United States kill annually approximately 2.4 billion birds every year, and are the leading source of direct, human caused mortality to birds in the country.


Dick Martin is a free-lance writer from Shelby. Reach him at [email protected] You also can visit his blog at outdoorswithmartin.com.

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